The climax of this week’s parasha is מעמד הר סיני:
The commentators are all bothered by this ויגד משה את דברי העם. We already had וישב משה את דברי העם; what does Moshe add now? Ibn Ezra says it’s a recap of what came before:
But that simply begs the question. Chizkuni, one of the classic בעלי הפשט, is forced to say that we need the Aggadah on this, and cites Rashi:
Before we look at Rashi, I want to look at Ramban to help understand what is going on here:
ה׳ says הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם בך יאמינו לעולם. But they already believed in Moshe:
Ramban’s point is that there are two aspects of אמונה here. Believing that a נביא was truly sent by ה׳ requires a sign, a miracle. That is what happened at קריעת ים סוף. But the authority of a נביא is only for their audience; they cannot establish an eternal law. The אמונה here is that Moshe is going to give them the Torah: the eternal Word of G-d:
Rashi explains the apparent redundant ויגד משה את דברי העם as implying we are missing an entire day:
Moshe goes up to ה׳ in pasuk ח: ישב משה את דברי העם אל ה׳ and tells ה׳ that the people said כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה. ה׳ then tells him ישמע העם בדברי עמך. Moshe then goes back down (not in the text), tells the people, and they respond, and it is this response that is in pasuk ט: ויגד משה את דברי העם אל ה׳. Note that the verb here is ויגד, which implies something harsher than a simple ויאמר. What was that response?
Rashi, based on the Mechilta, claims that בני ישראל rejected ה׳'s plan, that they would “overhear” Moshe getting the Torah. They want to hear it directly. So ה׳ agrees:
So what happens? They experience the full force of Divine Revelation, in all of its synesthetic glory. And they panic:
Moshe is disappointed in בני ישראל for backing out:
But ה׳ thinks it was great: they made it through the first two דברות (as Rashi reads the story) and they are graded as “exceeds expectations”:
So if experiencing revelation directly was so wonderful, why did ה׳ not command it in the first place? And why leave out בני ישראל's response from the entire text? I think that the text is written this way to teach us that “Plan B” was the intent all along. ה׳ wanted us to experience מעמד הר סיני. But it couldn’t be forced or commanded. בני ישראל had to ask for it. And once they did, the Torah “retcons” the story so it reads as though there was only one plan all along.
I think there’s a lesson in how תלמוד תורה works. While we are obligated to do all the מצוות, we are only obligated to learn the Torah that speaks to us as individuals:
As Rav Hutner says,
Without the הערב נא, there is no תלמוד תורה. בני ישראל had to ask to hear the Torah from ה׳ directly for that encounter with the Divine to have meaning.